Oxford expert chairs group calling for more support for retail innovation to boost European economic recovery

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A poor understanding of the sector and lack of financial, research, and policy support is hampering innovation in retailing and getting in the way of economic recovery across the European Union, say retail experts ‒ who have made 17 specific recommendations to European governments, universities, trade associations and retailers in order to boost innovation and competitiveness in this inherently dynamic and economically important sector.

The recommendations are detailed In the Final Report from The European Commission’s Expert Group on Retail Sector Innovation, an international team of retailers, academics and innovation specialists chaired by Dr Jonathan Reynolds of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Key recommendations are to:

  • Build better awareness amongst policymakers of the potential contribution of retail innovation to competitiveness, and to facilitate greater collaboration and knowledge exchange amongst retailers, European Technology Platforms, retail associations, and universities and research institutes
  • Prompt greater participation by retail firms of all sizes and sectors in European innovation funding and projects, including the Horizon 2020 programme; specific recommendations relate to providing support for SMEs, which are often the source of innovative ideas but lack awareness and resources to benefit from funding that will enable them to put them into practice
  • Stimulate and support investment in retail skills and education; in particular to increase knowledge exchange between higher education institutions, trade associations, and retailers, and to develop mechanisms to encourage retail SMEs and start-ups to take part in innovation-related training or skills development
  • Ensure that policymakers use a “retail reflex” in their thinking, to avoid the creation of barriers to retail innovation that result from the unforeseen consequences of policies and regulations in other sectors; the Report recommends that trade associations take action to screen the regulatory framework to assess its impact on retail innovation

“Despite continuing high-profile failures of large retailers, and the accompanying commentary that often criticises retailers as backward and slow to change, the retail sector remains a significant contributor to the European economy and society, and potentially one of the most important drivers of economic recovery,” said Reynolds. “The behaviours, needs and desires of European consumers are changing rapidly, which is creating new opportunities for firms. But they won’t be able to capitalise on these opportunities without access to finance and appropriately skilled people, and the removal of certain current regulatory constraints, such as cross-border barriers to electronic commerce.”

In the Report, the members of the Expert Group argue that retailing is the closest sector to the European citizen and consumer in the value chain and is therefore in a better position than other sectors to gather insight into the behaviour of consumers and coordinate and develop innovative strategies within European markets. However, there is a significant gap in the use of public funding for innovation between retailing and manufacturing and between retailing and the economy as a whole.

Reynolds says that this is because innovation in retailing, unlike that in sectors such as pharmaceuticals or chemical engineering, tends to be incremental rather than radical, can embrace new business models and processes as well as new technology, and is often conducted in partnership with others in the supply chain. Much innovation within the sector is naturally focused on increasing efficiency, boosting productivity and the speeding up of administrative processes. However, “the most effective kind of retail innovation can occur when there is a re-engineering of the whole shopping process in a more radical way.” This calls for stronger leadership of the retail innovation process and greater capacity to participate in laboratory environments. Retailers, particularly SMEs, also need easier access to EU information and funding.

“The retail sector’s scale, its role as a major employer, and its closeness to the consumer make it a vital part of improving economic performance, communities and lifestyles across Europe,” said Reynolds. “We need to close the gap between the sector’s existing capabilities and the ways in which it is supported in developing innovative products, services and technologies. We urge the European Commission and other stakeholders to follow our recommendations in order to more fully realize retailing’s capacity to contribute to growth and competitiveness in Europe.”

The retail sector is a significant contributor to the European economy and society. It is the largest private employer within the EU28 in terms of the number of people employed (18.7 million), employing more people than the construction sector and three times as many people as the financial services sector. It comprises 3.6 million businesses, the vast majority of which (95%) are SMEs.

The Final Report from the Expert Group on Retail Sector Innovation is published by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission and was commissioned as part of the European Retail Action Plan, designed to support the achievement of a single market in retailing.

For further information or to speak with Professor Reynolds, please contact the press office:

Clare Fisher, Head of Public Relations, Saïd Business School
Mobile: +44 (0) 7912 771090; Tel: 01865 288968
Email: clare(dot)fisher(at)sbs(dot)ox(dot)ac(dot)uk

Josie Powell, Press Officer, Saïd Business School
Mobile +44 (0)7711 387215, Tel: +44 (0) 1865 288403
Email: josie.powell(at)sbs(dot)ox(dot)ac(dot)uk or pressoffice(at)sbs(dot)ox(dot)ac(dot)uk

Notes to Editors

1 The Final Report


The final report is published by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission and was commissioned as part of the European Retail Action Plan.

2 About Professor Jonathan Reynolds


About Saїd Business School

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford blends the best of new and old. We are a vibrant and innovative business school, but yet deeply embedded in an 800 year old world-class university. We create programmes and ideas that have global impact. We educate people for successful business careers, and as a community seek to tackle world-scale problems. We deliver cutting-edge programmes and ground-breaking research that transform individuals, organisations, business practice, and society. We seek to be a world-class business school community, embedded in a world-class University, tackling world-scale problems.

In the Financial Times European Business School ranking (Dec 2013) Saïd is ranked 12th. It is ranked 13th worldwide in the FT’s combined ranking of Executive Education programmes (May 2013) and 23rd in the world in the FT ranking of MBA programmes (Jan 2014). The MBA is ranked 5th in Businessweek’s full time MBA ranking outside the USA (Nov 2012) and is ranked 5th among the top non-US Business Schools by Forbes magazine (Sep 2013). The Executive MBA is ranked 23rd worldwide in the FT’s ranking of EMBAs (Oct 2013). The Oxford MSc in Financial Economics is ranked 6th in the world in the FT ranking of Masters in Finance programmes (Jun 2013). In the UK university league tables it is ranked first of all UK universities for undergraduate business and management in The Guardian (Jun 2013) and has ranked first in nine of the last ten years in The Times (Sept 2013). For more information, see http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/


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Josie Powell
University of Oxford
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Clare Fisher
University of Oxford
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